Friday, 21 December 2012

"Ice on the rabbit's paw"

Christmas is a time for traditions and one I grew up with was the annual attendance at one of the Liverpool Philharmonic Carol Concerts (now known as the 'Spirit of Christmas' concert). These were always wonderful, moving occasions and, in the last few years, we have started going again. Over the years, we have seen many different presenters such as Richard Baker, Peter Ustinov, Roger McGough, Lesley Garrett and John Suchet. Like James Bond and Dr Who, there can be debate as to who is the best but, for me, it has to be Richard Baker, the former newsreader who presided over the concerts for many years.

These concerts have their own traditions; they always end with a closing sequence usually consisting of one of John Rutter's beautiful carols followed by a reading, a mesmerising rendition of 'Silent Night' by the choir and, finally, everyone stands to belt out 'O, Come All Ye Faithful' . Always, the reading was 'Christmas Landscape' by Laurie Lee and it never failed to bring tears to my eyes. Until last year, that is. Last years concert was particularly magical with that single exception - it just wasn't the same without that particular reading. A friend (who's family were also regulars at these concerts) once told me that, for his Mother, Christmas began when she heard the words "ice on the rabbit's paw" and that pretty much sums up how I feel.

Sunday night we will go once more. Sadly, this year, it will just be me, J and my Father but I know we will have a wonderful evening and, just in case they leave it out again, or you've never come across it, here is that wonderfully evocative poem in full although the reading always ended at "The blessed babe is laid".

Let Christmas begin!

"Christmas Landscape" - Laurie Lee

Tonight the wind gnaws
With teeth of glass,
The jackdaw shivers
In caged branches of iron,
The stars have talons.

There is hunger in the mouth
Of vole and badger,
Silver agonies of breath
In the nostril of the fox,
Ice on the rabbit’s paw.

Tonight has no moon,
No food for the pilgrim;
The fruit tree is bare,
The rose bush a thorn
And the ground is bitter with stones.

But the mole sleeps, and the hedgehog
Lies curled in a womb of leaves,
The bean and the wheat-seed
Hug their germs in the earth
And the stream moves under the ice.

Tonight there is no moon,
But a new star opens
Like a silver trumpet over the dead.
Tonight in a nest of ruins
The blessed babe is laid.
And the fir tree warms to a bloom of candles,
And the child lights his lantern,
Stares at his tinselled toy;
And our hearts and hearths
Smoulder with live ashes.

In the blood of our grief
The cold earth is suckled,
In our agony the womb
Convulses its seed;
In the first cry of anguish
The child’s first breath is born.

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